Discover more from Suburbia
An inaugural issue about living in my childhood bedroom during my prime and things that make it enjoyable
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I found out a couple weeks ago that my best friend from college hadn’t asked me to be in her wedding. It was expected. When I returned to the Bay I fell out of touch with most of my college friends, who all stayed on the east coast, sprinkled throughout Brooklyn.
I threw the envelope in the trash and went back to writing tweets about enterprise software, my former best friend’s smiling face, familiar and stranger and older, gleaming back up at me from the save the date on my desk.
What is this feeling, too petty and frivolous to be described as grief, the physical acknowledgement that something or someone you once loved has moved on?
I think about this in my childhood bedroom, typing away at my standing desk purchased by company money, the walls behind me still plastered with photos of people I haven’t spoken to in years, their ghosts lingering behind me in every Zoom call. My room has evolved in some ways: the bookshelves cleared of Lisi Harrison and E.B. White, my closet cleansed of the old clothes I finally muster the apathy to part with. My mom still yells at me to eat breakfast and blow dry my hair and not use my phone before bed and I still listen to her. But I lose my temper more easily now, so sometimes I carry my dinner to my room, taking deep breaths in a space that feels too small and too empty and too unbearable all at once. Every day I type and laugh and nod in a graveyard of things I can’t bear to throw away, like the Harvard t-shirt stuffed in a drawer that’s the only thing I have left from my dead grandma, even though I don’t actually remember her giving it to me.
Last week I watched my mom hand our longtime family friend a crate of fruits and vegetables and pat her shoulder tenderly. Her son passed last month, leaving behind medical debt worth triple my salary and a toddler who would not remember his father. “都是回頭的時候,” my mother murmured soothingly. Then she said it again. Always when you look back, you see why things happened the way they did. At the Zoom funeral I think I hear people weeping, but the sound is tinny and crackling. Like an intermittent chorus of feedback.
These are things I expected and yet still grieve at the acknowledgement of it all. Receiving a wedding invitation in the mail, not knowing what my former best friend’s dress looks like. Donating a shirt that may or may not have been from my dead grandma, but I was holding onto just in case it was. Watching a casket flicker in and out over Zoom. In the end I cut the ceremony short by closing my laptop because I’ll be reminded of people and places and things that buried themselves before I was ready to say goodbye.
This is a space where I’ll be talking about suburbia, which to me embodies the feelings of growing in place, watching the world move on, relationships and bodies expiring without ceremony. To put this in millennial terms, I’ll be simping about living in my childhood bedroom during my prime. If you’re feeling a similar brand of unrequited nostalgia, we’ll work through it together. I promise not all of it will be quite as moody as this. Mostly I’ll tell you about things I enjoyed this month in hopes that you can enjoy them too, wherever you are.
Things I liked this month
Where I’m spending my hard earned coin
Recently I invested in a Yeti mug, which has kept my morning coffees hot while I take forever to drink them. I wear the same exact outfit while working from home, and it’s my Uniform Person Diana sweatshirt and Outdoor Voices Cloudknit sweatpants. (Thank you, Prosper, for recommending these on a random instagram poll I did a few months ago! I can confirm they never come off my body.)
Words and media
By the time this mails I’ll probably be done reading Interior Chinatown, written by the Taiwanese-American OC-born Westworld writer Charles Yu. Here’s an excerpt that is possibly the most achingly beautiful paragraph I’ve read in 2020 (served on page 20, no less):
The reality being that they’d lost the plot somewhere along the way, their once great romance spun into a period piece, into an immigrant family story, and then into a story about two people trying to get by. And it was just that: getting by. Barely, and no more. Because they’d also, in the way old people often do, slipped gently into poverty. Also without anyone noticing.
What I love about Yu’s writing is that it’s not intensely lyrical or chock-full of sweeping metaphors, the plot is nothing grandiose or epic—and yet the tenderness and clarity by which he captures life’s mundane, quietly devastating truths brings me to tears. (Well, if you’ve read this far, you’ll know that I have a penchant for sentimentality behind mundane things in life.)
One last excerpt, to convince you to give this work of art a read:
You keep thinking about Old Fong. Not that he died alone. Not that he died naked, or wet, or with soap on half his body. That he died waiting for his son’s phone call. That he lived, absolutely sure that one person in the world would always care, would always remember to check in on him. And then in his last moment, he was unsure of whether that was still true.
Lately I’ve been reading more essays (thank you, Havannah, for putting me on), and Jesus Raves by Jordan Kisner is a particular gem that made my breath catch in my throat. An excerpt, to convince you to give it a go:
There’s a membrane between imagining God’s love as a thought experiment and experiencing it as absolute reality, and if you slip across it the entire known universe breaks open and then reorders itself to be more whole and beautiful than you thought was possible. I had forgotten.
Lastly, please join me in appreciating the ED of Jujutsu Kaisen I faithfully watch every time I finish an episode; it’s so fun, unexpected, full of color and music.
I made these muffins with bananas and sweet potatoes for my aforementioned grieving family friend, without the sugar. They’re ridiculously healthy and ingredients can be easily swapped—I substituted with a chia egg, skipped the oil and used applesauce instead—perfect for folks in your life with some tighter health restrictions.
Over the weekend I drove my parents to Somi Somi right before it closed, and we ate it in the car, ice cream dripping down our fingers. It was nothing special to me but a novelty to them, my mom repeatedly enthusing about how it was “not too sweet” and one order was “perfect for the three of us.” I guess there was something special about all of us, sitting in the car, laughing while passing the cup around, plastic spoons reflecting dully beneath the yellow car light. It was peaceful.
I hope you have moments like that too, in the month ahead.
All the best, Hairol.
If any of this resonated with you, I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to send me a DM @hairol.ma on Instagram or @hairolma on Twitter. I know it’s a cardinal sin to have two CTAs, but you can give this a subscribe or leave a comment below.